New commission to develop plan for Lake Ontario flood regions

New commission to develop plan for Lake Ontario flood regions

Lake Ontario is getting its own task force to develop a plan to harden the waterfront infrastructure and enhance regional economies in flood-prone regions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week he has formed the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative, or REDI, commission. The state has committed more than $100 million to rebuild communities along the Lake Ontario shoreline that were devastated by flooding in 2017, and again this year experienced record high water levels and flooding in the same communities.

Flooding on Lake Ontario shoreline in May 2017 (AP)
Flooding on Lake Ontario shoreline in May 2017 (AP)

In February 2018, Monroe County received $1.5 million in grant funding from the state Office of Community Renewal to support a number of county infrastructure restoration and mitigation projects along the Lake Ontario shoreline.

In April this year, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer noted that Lake Ontario at 246.93 feet was just one foot lower than it was this time in 2017, the year when the lake reached as high as 248.6 feet by June.

In fact, over the last six decades, Lake Ontario water levels have only been as high as they were this February during prior Februaries on five occasions. In two of those years – 1973 and 1993 – serious flooding occurred in the spring.

On May 9 this year, Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo declared a state of emergency due to high water levels on Lake Ontario.

“Intelligence and common sense dictate that this is the new normal, and we should expect continued high water levels for Lake Ontario. We should not be surprised in two years if we are in the same position, and once you accept that premise, it’s a fool’s errand to rebuild to the same standard,” Cuomo said in a news release Wednesday.

Cuomo said we should redesign and re-envision a different type of shoreline with different protections and build for “these inevitable factors in the future.”

“We are launching the Lake Ontario REDI commission that will tour the affected areas and work with local communities to come up with a new vision for rebuilding the shoreline from both a resiliency and economic development point of view since many of these communities thrive on the summer tourism industry,” he added.

The task force will examine areas that are hit hardest by flooding on Lake Ontario, including those that were impacted in 2017, and develop a package of new actions ranging from legislative changes to aid packages to executive actions. Those actions will both rebuild the shoreline and improve resiliency to withstand whatever Mother Nature has in store in the future, officials said.

Part of the plan includes ways to harden public facilities and enhance natural features such as living shorelines and sand replenishment on the waterfront.

The commission will be co-chaired by Empire State Development President, CEO and Commissioner Howard Zemsky and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, and will include other state commissioners.

The commission also will examine areas along the St. Lawrence River that were heavily impacted by the high water levels in 2017 to determine any additional measures that can be taken to harden infrastructure in those communities.

“We are taking a short- and long-term approach, not just emergency preparations today, but also rebuilding better and stronger for the future.”

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